Someone did the maths and figured at any given time, 194 Mumbai constables will be busy smiling and offering water to the public.
Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the recent announcement by the newly appointed and highly controversial CP of Mumbai (one of the most glamourous and coveted police appointments in India) in which he says he plans to introduce “welcome desks” at police stations and offer water to thirsty citizens. Param Bir Singh is known for his flamboyance and public chest-thumping. His latest initiative will see two constables sitting primly at the “welcome desk”, greeting complainants with a smile and a glass of water. You know… behaving like those polite persons manning hospitality desks at high-profile events, fake smiles plastered in place. Nice! That too in a crazy, frenzied, crime saturated city like Mumbai! This charming gesture was publicised at a conference at which the CP addressed police officers of all the 92 police stations in Mumbai. He couldn’t help but reference his own achievements as the previous police commissioner of Thane, where he claimed the crime branch had bust several key cases. If Thane cops can, so can Mumbai cops, he said encouragingly. Yes sir! Totally! Meanwhile, a quick glance at alarming stats: Cases of crimes against women in Maharashtra has risen significantly, according to published data — 5K of rape and 13K of molestation. But thanks, anyway.
Someone did the maths and figured at any given time, 194 Mumbai constables will be busy smiling and offering water to the public. A sweetie pie goodwill gesture, for sure. But in a city that is worryingly short-staffed when it comes to cops on patrol, does this make sense? The Mumbai police are hopelessly overworked and unable to deal with routine cases. The city struggles on a daily basis with police stations that turn citizens away arbitrarily and refuse to register even legitimate complaints. There is a high level of frustration in police ranks, with constables pressed into VVIP duty, bandobasts and nakabandis. Some go without sleep or rest for 40 hours at a stretch, hanging around the arterial roads waiting for a VVIP convoy to pass. Some of the busiest cop stations in our area chase away petty criminals since there is no space to hold them in the overcrowded lockups. Worse, the so-called security drill mandated after the terror attacks, remains on paper. A nifty amphibian buggy was announced and position
ed on the small patch of beach opposite nearby Badhwar Park — the entry point used by Kasab and gang. I passed it two days ago. It is where it has always been — unused, rusting and not even of raddi value. It’s a piece of junk, obstructing the fisherfolk from conducting their business with ease. And this is just a “tiny” grouse.
I have the highest respect for the Mumbai police. But as the legendary top cop Julio Ribeiro pointed out in a recent article, there is far too much political interference involved at the highest level. If the CP is a handpicked man, favoured by a certain political party, how can his team respect his actions, orders or decisions? No city can be policed by compromised cops, reporting to their political masters. This is not unique to Mumbai. One can see this as an epidemic spreading throughout India. The shoddy handling of the riots in Delhi is a prime example of police complicity.
Mumbai always prided itself on its crack police force, which used to be favourably compared to Scotland Yard. The decline began 30-odd years ago, when appointments to key positions were directly controlled and sanctioned by politicians. Their chosen men were used for manipulating the system, look the other way, and actively help top netas fix files in their fraudulent deals when they went about grabbing priceless land. Police corruption is not new. It existed even in Mr Ribeiro’s time. But never has it been this blatant, this in your face. Giving a clean chit to high profile criminals parading as politicians has become routine. Deliberately messing up murder cases, destroying or planting evidence, or just keeping mum, has destroyed and subverted the system. Citizens are reluctant to file charges because most of the time, they are treated like they are the accused! The Bollywood portrayal of venal pandu havaldars is not all that off the mark. But today, the story has gone into another dimension, with cyber criminals and economic offenders taking over from street goondas and random “bhais”. Mumbai’s notorious hafta culture has also taken a quantum leap, and today’s smart cops look at private jets and luxury apartments — not a free Alto — as a Diwali baksheesh.
Our new man in the top job has already made his presence felt during a celebrity wedding, attended by prominent invitees from across India. According to eyewitnesses, there he was, in a merry mood, declaring to all and sundry that with him around, Mumbai will become a safe city. He was here to bust crime and clean up the force, he bragged. Amused bystanders watched his antics and kept their fingers crossed. His stated intentions are indeed encouraging and positive. Mumbai is a vibrant, exciting metropolis. Mr Param Bir Singh can do a lot to restore the lost prestige of the police force. Officers are a demoralised lot, sickened by the backstabbing and backbiting that does not recognise merit. Rules are being bent to accommodate those who are willing to play ball with netas, who in turn act more like dreaded dons than public servants. When the police start taking orders from political mentors, it is time for citizens to stay on red alert and speak up. Remember, the cops are here for us — to ensure our safety. If they start behaving like the worst bullies and extracting a price for doing their job, report them. Our lives are in their hands. So, dhanyavad Mr Param Bir Singh, for that welcome desk and free water. But, honestly speaking, we’d rather have those constables patrolling the streets and fighting crime, okay?